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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am glad that my Answer was predictable. It may derive from the proposition that I do not believe that at the last election the political platform of any party put before the electorate was that there should be a parliament for England. It bears repetition that this Government are fully committed to the continued integrity of the United Kingdom. We believe firmly and strongly that the devolved--

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: Assemblies!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who always helps me on these occasions. We believe that the devolved assemblies will contribute to that continued integrity. England is in no way being disregarded or overlooked.

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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that I share his commitment to the integrity of the United Kingdom? As a Scotsman, I ask a Welshman why the English want a referendum on a parliament for England when they already have one.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as a Welshman replying to a Scotsman, I cannot pretend to understand the unfathomable depths of the English mind.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the noble Lord--

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps we should take a question from the Cross Benches.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, is it not the English regions rather than England as a whole which stand in need of democratic institutions to control their numerous quangos and so forth?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is a vast amount to be done to control the quangos set up and abused by our predecessors--if I may respectfully suggest it. That is why the Government have indicated their intention in due time to hold referendums on establishing directly elected regional assemblies in England, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, so rightly observes.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, do the Government intend to go ahead with the Welsh Assembly in view of the fact that they received only a 0.6 per cent. yes vote and only half the people voted?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it was not a 0.6 per cent. yes vote; it was 50.3 per cent. I hate to be careful about these things. It was perfectly plain, as was anticipated by many of us, that the Welsh electorate, being calm, unflustered and unhurried, took a mature decision to indicate what was appropriate; namely, a vote yes. I am pleased to think that the Conservative Opposition will be fighting the election so that they may have Conservative members in the new successful Welsh assembly.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister--

Noble Lords: Lord Dean!

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, before we contemplate the setting up of another parliament, it would be wise to make sure that our own Parliament in Westminster ceases the process of losing its powers, which it has been doing for many years? Would it not be wise to restore some power to Westminster?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is right that both Houses of Parliament are susceptible to useful reform, and we have that very much in mind.

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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may help the Minister by reminding him that his own Government have decided that the Scottish body ought to be a parliament and not an assembly. Secondly, if we are to have referendums for various bodies to be set up in the regions of England, can we see the detailed legislation before the referendums and not have weeks passing with no sign of a Bill as is the case in respect of the Scottish and Welsh referendums?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, these referenda, or referendums, as people will keep calling them--wrongly, I believe--must be looked at with great care. I am not sure whether it is the policy of the Conservative Opposition to have a referendum on the Treaty of Amsterdam. They have been a little silent on the matter lately. I take the noble Lord's point and, as always, will be eager to co-operate with him and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, whom I should have welcomed earlier as he will be dealing with constitutional and devolution matters in your Lordships' House. It is a great pleasure to all of us, myself in particular, to be able to welcome him.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister--

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords--

Lord Carter: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dean has been trying to ask a question for some time. Perhaps we can then move on to the next Question.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I feel it a great privilege to be one of the few Englishmen allowed to ask a question today on an English matter? Is the Minister also aware that I am one of those who look askance at the suggestion of holding a referendum in England on devolution, bearing in mind the shambles in Wales when only 50 per cent. voted, producing an extremely narrow majority after hyperactivity from the minority in Wales who were in favour? If the Government have any intention of holding a referendum in England, will the Minister do his best to dissuade them and persuade them to do away with this very expensive toy?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord looks askance at various things on various occasions. I do not agree with his description of the result in Wales. It was a majority of 50.3 per cent. after a very deeply considered argument and debate which has extended for about 50 years.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords--

Lord Carter: My Lords, we are in the 17th minute and we should move on to the next Question.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, would not--

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, would not mind giving way. We are now in the 17th minute of Question Time and it is time to move on to the third Question.

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Legislation: Statements of Purpose

3.8 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will instruct government departments and parliamentary counsel, when preparing legislation, to make clear the intention of Parliament by including statements of purpose as recommended by the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation (the Renton Report, Cmnd 6053, 1974-75).

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I welcome this Question. I regret only that we cannot do justice to it in the limited time available for Starred Questions. Perhaps the noble Lord will consider seeking an opportunity for fuller debate when the Government have had an opportunity to respond to the proposals of the modernisation committee.

Legislation should be as clear as possible, including a statement of purpose, which may sometimes assist clarity but not always. There are dangers. If the statement has legal effect and covers the same ground as later detailed provisions, there is a risk of real or apparent inconsistency. If the statement is not intended to have legal effect, the courts may give it some effect with unintended results. The Renton Report therefore concluded that purpose clauses should be used only "selectively and with caution" and the Hansard Society's 1992 report concluded that they should,

    "not be adopted as a general practice".

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that open-minded and constructive Answer. In using the word "constructive" I do not intend some not-very-funny legal pun. Does the Minister agree-- I believe that it follows from what he said--that it is important to ensure that the law is made as accessible as possible to the citizens and the courts, and that one useful way of doing that is by using a purpose clause, as was done, for example, in Section 1 of the Arbitration Act 1996, which is a rare and outstanding example? Will the Minister also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff of Chieveley, in his Wilberforce Lecture last year, when he said:

    "Even today, it is very difficult for us to persuade our draftsmen to adopt a more open-textured form of draftsmanship designed to identify the underlying principle"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not say, and the Government do not think, that there is never any advantage in purpose clauses. But there have been very few of them and I believe the noble Lord will agree that for every one that does work there are probably several that do not. The risk of confusion from having a separate statement on the same point is great. That is why both the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the Hansard Society argued against it being a general practice.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister recall that a considerable amount of work has been done on proposals to simplify legislation and to

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make it more readily readable for the ordinary person and not just lawyers? That is an important way forward. Will the Minister agree with me further that the judgment in Pepper v. Hart means that the gloss, so to speak, put on legislation by Ministers at Dispatch Boxes in both Houses can be prayed in aid in order to understand what the Government intended in framing legislation?

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